Contrary to popular New Hampshire native’s beliefs, there are a variety of different Flatlanders living here in the Granite State.
I belong to the New York Flatlanders. We do sympathize with those Flatlanders from Massachusetts, Connecticut and other regions when it comes to matters of adjustment to life here. Still, there are certain traditions that New York Flatlanders brought with them when they moved here.
That grueling trip up Interstate 95, the maddening trek down I-84 only to becomes disoriented at the Lowell Connector and then onto I-93 till we reached the welcoming “Bienvenue” that we had heard about from other trailblazers who had made the trip.
Finally establishing our homesteads while being called Flatlanders by some unwelcoming natives for our funny ways, we were determined to never give up the one tradition that distinguished us from the rest, even many Flatlanders….the way we eat our pizza.
In New York, pizza parlor signs glowed their beacons to all, rich or poor, black or white, young or old. Certainly not unique in the country on the outside, but significantly different inside.
Fat, round circles of dough were floured, patted twirled and shaped into the thinnest of crusts, emblazoned with a spicy tomato sauce and sprinkled evenly with cheese then baked in fiery ovens until perfect, cut into eight even pieces and then served on a piece of wax paper or paper plate but never….ever…ever…with a knife and a fork.
Nothing pains a transplanted New Yorker more than watching someone eat a slice of pizza with utensils, carefully cutting each piece like it was a tender piece of meat, switching the fork into the right hand and then lifting the small piece to their mouth as though it were a filet mignon.
If you want to find out if someone is really from New York (even though they claim to be natives of New Hampshire, phony accent and all) just follow them around for a few days until they eat some pizza.
No matter how hard they try, they can never lose their inclination to grasp the slice of pizza between thumb and middle finger while gentle putting a crease in the crust with the index. Then the thumb and middle finger will instinctively fold the slice as it is quickly lifted towards the mouth.
You will also notice the head drop quickly and tilt slightly to the left or the right to catch the point of the pizza slice. (Though this is not necessary with New England style pizza, it is a hereditary trait, passed down through the ages by generations of pizza eaters who knew you had to catch the tip of the thin crust before it flipped downwards and dripped that mysterious but delicious pizza oil all over the front of their New York Jets sweatshirt.)
The reason New Yorkers never use a knife and fork to eat pizza is simple. It was always a food “to go.” Sold through storefront windows facing the sidewalk. You would go up to the window, order a slice, give the pizza guy your money while he heated it for a minute in the oven. Then you’d wait for him to slap it onto a piece of wax paper and then off you went, creasing and folding and tilting your head in an unconscious movement.
This is how we grew up and this is the tradition that we proudly brought with us to New Hampshire and continue to use, no matter how thick they make the crusts or how long they bake the oils into submission.
In all fairness, I have to say that I have seen more than a few New Hampshire natives trying to eat a slice of piazza with their hands, possibly in an attempt to show that they can do whatever we can do and do it better.
Some have had some success and they like to gloat about it. They show me it’s a simple procedure that anyone can adapt to. They look at me from across the restaurant as they lift their New England style pizza crust and carefully place it in their mouths, not even having to bend the crusts to accomplish their gloating.
I grin innocently from my table and even raise my wine glass in salute while in my mind I am picturing the same gentleman, with his first slice of real New York style pizza on a piece of wax paper, taking those same confident movements only to find his New England Patriots sweatshirt suddenly covered in oil and cheese.
It’s a proud tradition.
Visit Brendan’s website at www.BrendanTSmith.com